Appreciation Across Generations
How Preferences Among Different Age Groups Should Influence Your Recognition Strategies
If you approach communicating appreciation and recognition to employees the same, regardless of their age group, you are at high risk for missing the mark – including wasting your time, energy and the organization’s money. Recent research with over 190,000 employees found that how they prefer to be shown appreciation varies significantly, especially for employees in the youngest and oldest generations.
Utilizing the five languages of appreciation model, we found that while the pattern of preferred appreciation languages generally carries across age groups, a shift is occurring. Historically over the past ten years, appreciation communicated verbally has been desired by most employees (46%), with quality time second highest (26%), followed by acts of service (21%), gifts (6%) and appropriate physical touch (1%). But when comparing employees across age groups, we observed changes in preferences.
Senior Employees Don’t Want Gifts
A key finding was that the proportion of employees who were 60 years old and above really don’t want tangible gifts as a way of being shown appreciation. Only 2% of older employees choose gifts as their preferred language of appreciation. Conversely, these employees value words of affirmation more highly than any other age group – up to 50%. These findings have significant implications for “years of service” awards and how appreciation is shown at retirement celebrations.
Essentially, organizations appear to be wasting a lot of money in giving gifts to show their appreciation to more senior employees – the vast majority of employees don’t value them (and largely view them as token). The same conclusion could also be applied to extravagant “retention” packages organizations offer experienced executives to keep working – what these executives may want is something totally different (for example, opportunities to mentor younger managers, or receive coaching in how to make a successful transition from full-time work) than a large bonus.
What older employees really desire is to hear from others in the organization how they have helped the organization achieve its goals, how they have impacted those they have worked with, and the characteristics they have modeled to others. The key to effective and meaningful verbal affirmation is that it must be specific – from one person to another with distinct examples, (rather than a global, “You’ve helped the organization tremendously over the years” platitude.
Younger Employees Want Quality Time – With Each Other
The second notable trend in the research was that the younger the employee, the more they valued appreciation shown through quality time. From 24% of older employees to over 37% of those 20 years old and younger.
While this shift is notable by itself, probably more important is to integrate the additional theme that the type of time younger employees desire is with their peers, not necessarily with their supervisor or manager. As a result, when an older leader sees that one of their team members has Quality Time as their primary language of appreciation, they should not assume the employee desires time with them.
The larger implication is that, in designing employee appreciation activities, organizations should focus on creating activities that foster ways for younger employees to spend time together (even just “hanging out” time). As the generational make-up of the work force continues to evolve, the ways that managers and companies show their employees appreciation needs to change as well. As our recent research suggests, members of the older and younger generations have very different preferences when it comes to how they like to be shown appreciation. Not paying attention to these differences will lead to wasting time, energy and resources and not achieving the impact desired.Tags: generational shift, generations
Categories 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Appreciation, Gifts, Recognition